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Red Cross Gets Permission to Visit Saddam Hussein - 2004-02-14

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has given the agency the "green light" to visit Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader. The terms of the visit are being worked out.

Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal confirms that ICRC visits to the captured Iraqi leader will go ahead according to international rules governing the detention of all prisoners of war. He says discussions are under way as to how and where those visits will take place.

We obviously would hope it will happen as soon as possible," he said. "Now, what the technicalities are is that the ICRC to really be able to do its job of monitoring the conditions of detention credibly. There are certain working procedures of the ICRC which need to be observed during these kind of visits - all visits we do to detainees."

Saddam Hussein was captured in an underground shelter at a remote farm in northern Iraq on December 13 and was granted prisoner of war status by the Americans. This entitles him to certain minimum standards of treatment.

Mr. Westphal says the visit, when it goes ahead, will be conducted by Red Cross international staff in private. He says the delegation will most likely include either a doctor or a nurse and will make sure the minimum prisoner-of-war conditions are met.

"Food, accommodation, access to fresh air, medical care," said the ICRC spokesman. "The second aspect obviously relates to the treatment. That is to say what exactly the relationship is like between the detainees, the prisoners and their guards. And, the third aspect which we are looking at is this possibility of having exchange of family messages of Red Cross messages which contain strictly personal news."

If the Red Cross should find that Saddam Hussein's conditions of detention are not what they should be, Mr. Westphal says the delegates would discuss these problems with the coalition authorities in private so as not to compromise the Red Cross's neutrality.

He says the Red Cross has seen most of the 43 other high-ranking Iraqis captured by coalition forces. In addition, he says Red Cross officials have visited thousands of other detained Iraqis and have facilitated the repatriation of foreigners who were detained in Iraq and later released.